Ben Huntzinger is proving that necessity is the mother of invention, one wheelchair at a time. After an automobile accident left Huntzinger paralyzed from the chest down, the outdoor enthusiast wasn’t going to let a wheelchair define how he would live his life.
“I built a prototype from an off-road skateboard axel mounted under a wheelchair,” he says. “I could use it to traverse all the mountain bike trails along the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta.”
Wanting to “open up a whole new world” for other wheelchair users, Huntzinger set out to develop a high-quality and affordable off-road wheelchair.
“Everywhere I went, ideas were jumping out at me,” says Huntzinger. “I would go to the Tractor Supply Store and just stare at wheels, thinking about how I could use them.”
While improving his off-road wheelchair design, Huntzinger decided it was time to take welding classes at Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC) in Thomasville.
“I had watched a bunch of YouTube videos about welding, and learned a few things,” says Huntzinger, owner of Spartan Wheel Chariots. “Then I got restless and decided school might be the answer.”
On his first day at SRTC, Huntzinger made his way to the marketing department and introduced himself.
“I told them about my idea of building a wheelchair that could be a complete gamechanger,” he says. “About two months later, they called and told me about a competition for inventors.”
Huntzinger entered the inaugural Georgia InVenture Prize, a competition to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among college students.
Spartan Wheel Chariots was one of 19 teams selected to present its business idea to a panel of judges, with the final round televised on Georgia Public Broadcasting.
“I wasn’t nervous or stressed about the competition,” he says. “I just went out there and told them who I was and what I am about.”
Spartan Wheel Chariots placed second in the overall competition, which was hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and he also received the People’s Choice Award. His total prize winnings included $25,000 and consultations with high-level business advisors.
Leigh Wallace, executive vice president at SRTC, says the college is extremely proud of Huntzinger’s accomplishments.
“The passion that Ben showed during the Georgia InVenture Prize Competition for his invention and helping those with his type of disability was simply magnetic,” says Wallace. “As the competition continued, we could feel that everyone was rooting for Ben, even his fellow inventors.”
With his wealth of product knowledge and overall passion for his invention, Wallace says, Huntzinger impressed the judges. “Ben made Southern Regional Technical College very proud during the competition, and he has continued to make us proud of his commitment to his college career even as he builds Spartan Wheel Chariots.”
The prize money allows Huntzinger to move forward in building wheelchairs that are durable, easily attainable, and affordable.
“I am still using the same welding equipment, but I was able to buy a bulk supply of wheels, springs, metal, and upholstery,” he says. “Each chair is custom ordered, and I want to keep the cost to $500 each, which the next closest model is $2,500. We are the only one that you buy directly over the internet.”
Thankful for the support he has received throughout his journey, Huntzinger says, “Every day it reminds me of who I am, and I want to be that guy that makes a difference.”